Life has changed a lot here in Guatemala since the COVID-19 Corona Virus has spread across the globe, and we know it has changed for many others too.
In Chichicastenango, where we live, there is normally a bustling market with tourists, vendors, and colorful handicrafts and vegetables. Not now.
The tourists are gone, the market is limited to a mere skeleton of vendors with products for local consumption and the streets are mostly quiet.
On Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Saturday dust is usually flying around our yard from the many children who come from a local school for recess, our weekly Bible study activities and those who just come to hang out with us. Now, just our own children are making mud pies and scaling the trees, waiting for their little friends to return.
We are mainly at home working on projects that don’t require a lot of physical interactions…planning ministry, writing curriculum, phone and video chats, and definitely prayer. Homeschooling with the kids also continues.
It was March 13 when the first confirmed case of the virus was detected in Guatemala which is long after it was spreading quickly in other countries. Thankfully, the spread here has been slowed by an abundance of cautions taken by authorities and, we believe, the prayers of the church that have united us in these times.
Since early March, the Guatemalan government took strong precautions to prevent and then contain the spread–closing schools, churches, sporting events and the borders. Emergency evacuation flights for U.S. citizens have filed up. For any foreigner trying to get into Guatemala, the borders are closed unless they are citizens, residents, or a select group of official personnel.
We have no plans to leave. We know that we can do more to help here and are probably safer staying put than if we were to travel.
The president of Guatemala called for a day of fasting and prayer on Saturday, March 21, and many of us participated as we recognize the potential danger if the virus were to spread here in a country with scarcely enough medical care for the normal needs, much less for responding to an epidemic.
Limited contact with others and communicating through social media and technology have become the new norm, and many of those who do venture into the streets are seen wearing face masks to filter what they breathe.
For us, the mandated restrictions on activities of all types caused us to suspend our group ministry activities that involve in-person gatherings. We still have contact with several families and have distributed audio players with faith-based stories (Keys for Kids) for the children to use while they too are restricted to their homes. We are also doing what we can for neighbors in need with food and firewood to help where needed.
As of today, there are 21 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus in Guatemala and a mandatory nation-wide curfew was activated yesterday from 4 p.m. to 4 a.m.
Not long before writing this, I saw a police patrol drive down the empty street in front of our house. I waved at them as they passed and they waved back, their faces hidden beneath surgical masks.
On the first day of the curfew, at least 784 people were arrested across Guatemala — three locally. This show of force is sure to show the seriousness of breaking the curfew.
In the markets they are limiting purchases to small amounts so more people can find the products they need. Prices had jumped, but a government crackdown and police patrolling the markets have brought prices back to more reasonable rates although cash-strapped families still find it difficult since many are out of work.
For us we are using this time to write curriculum for our personal Bible Study as well as something we hope will be used by many Guatemalan churches and beyond! We are taking this time to seek God and His vision for our ministry, regroup our resources, catch up and plan ahead to be ready to reach further when doors open again.
Please pray for Guatemala as we reach a critical point in the testing, treatment and care for those who have the virus and for calm for those who are afraid. We know that God did not cause this disease, but He works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. So this is what we pray…that hearts will be drawn to Christ through all this both here in Guatemala and across the globe.